All things hallucinogen ... What to do?

Late last year a 15 year old young man from NSW's Central Coast was found dead after allegedly using LSD. As yet no toxicology results have been released but at the time the death was widely reported as an 'LSD overdose'. If that ends up being the case it will be highly unusual - those deaths that have been linked to LSD are usually classed as 'misadventure' and involve the user being involved in accidents, falls or car crashes whilst under the effect of the drug.

Regardless of what caused the death the incident highlights a growing issue that I have been observing over the past couple of years amongst high school students - the growing use of hallucinogens. Drug use tends to go in 'cycles' - particular drugs go in and out of favour over time - we certainly went through a stimulant cycle in the late 1980s and early 90s, with the ecstasy culture growing rapidly. We then moved into the 'heroin years' in the latter half of the 90s. What I am seeing now is a growing interest, particularly by secondary school students, in anything hallucinogenic - LSD, mushrooms, datura and even DMT.

There are a number of things that appear to attract them to these drugs - they are comparatively cheap, they are seen as value for money (i.e., you get 'more bang for your buck'), they can't be detected by sniffer dogs and most importantly they are not perceived as harmful when compared to other substances.

To illustrate this point, here is an email I received from a Year 11 student last week:

"Could you give me some more information on LSD and mushrooms please? My friends and I have been using them for the past year and it wasn't until you gave us your talk this year that I realised that I don't know anything about what I've been taking. I've never had a bad experience on them but some of my friends have and we've had to look after some who've had bad trips (usually when they've taken mushies and acid together, or been drinking beforehand). I've tried pills but sometimes they don't work - acid always has an effect ..."

Information is power. Currently many young people who use drugs like LSD and 'magic mushrooms' have little, if any, quality information about the substances they are taking. Some certainly rely on the Internet (not always the best place for quality information), but many others don't even bother to do that, leaving them to sort through the messages they pick up from other young people that are inaccurate at best, and, at worst, potentially life threatening.

Are hallucinogens the most dangerous drugs around? Absolutely not. But there are risks involved with the use of any substance, whether it be legal, illegal or prescription, and when we have young people mixing LSD with mushrooms and then throwing alcohol into the mix, the risk of something going wrong increases greatly.

I don't know what the answer is - I'm certainly not suggesting that classroom teachers start providing information sessions on LSD! Most do not have the knowledge necessary to deliver such lessons and certainly wouldn't feel comfortable doing so, but with growing numbers of very young students being exposed to these substances we certainly need to raise awareness of the potential risks. Unfortunately, my fear is that we would just end up with the usual 'scare campaign' that would satisfy governments but would end up 'blowing up' in our faces and cause more harm than good.


  1. Hi Paul :)

    I also don't have the magic answer but one start would be for us to live in a context where young people aren't scared to ask for help. At the moment they know they can get into big trouble asking the wrong people. So it's great your student decided to ask you, so you can give some informed advice. It's great that you were there at the right time and presented yourself as approachable/knowledgeable.

    If we could change the legislative situation of the myriad inebriates available, allowing regulated supply and high quality information, AND within this context, develop a culture where we are allowed to learn how to manage inebriation... children growing up in this world may have different (hopefully more positive) experiences when they inevitably encounter these substances.


  2. Hey Paul,
    Appreciate your concerns! We know that following Nancy Reagan's 'just say no' campaign is a hopeless approach. Research has shown a reduction in illict drug use - among young people, in Portugal since they decriminalised possession of small amounts. Those States in the US that have legalised cannabis for medicinal use have likewise seen this reduction. We must learn from their experience. Perhaps (OUR)drug policies and a community that does not stigmatise drug users, nor makes drug use more attractive to young people (if you say no..then we will) may be a step in the right direction. At least this would create a good platform for health services to provide meaningful advice without judgement.



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